04 September 2017

Fedotov on the inheritance of Kievan Rus’

Gyorgi Petrovich Fedotov

An excerpt from GP Fedotov’s last volume, refereeing with his historical credentials certain modern claims laid to the ancient legacy of Kievan Rus’:
In modern times, moved by nationalistic feelings, Ukrainian historians, like Professor Michael Hrushevsky, claim that the whole Kievan period lies within the exclusive domain of Ukrainian history and thus deny any and every link between Kiev and Great Russia or Muscovy.

This is an obvious exaggeration. Even if one recognises in Kiev and Moscow two cultural formations one cannot deny that the name of the nation, the language, the political tradition and the dynasty of ruling princes (Rurikides) remained unchanged after the Mongolian conquest. The bulk of Kievan literature was bequeathed to Great Russia. Every Northern historian began his annals by transcribing the ancient Kievan Chronicle, the so-called
Primary Chronicle or Chronicle of Bygone Years. The ecclesiastical organisation remained the same; Russia was a metropolitan province under the patriarchate of Constantinople. The prelate who resided in Vladimir and, later, in Moscow received the title of metropolitan in direct succession from the see of Kiev. The continuity of tradition was even more marked in the religious and cultural domain with which we are dealing here than in the political and social spheres.
Fedotov is not, of course, a historical partizan of Moscow or a champion of the Muscovite Era. If anything, he is quite the opposite. His interests clearly lie instead with ancient Kiev and with its rich inward spiritual life, and tracing it carefully through its flowering in Russia’s ‘middle ages’. His criticism of Muscovite spirituality is in fact, pretty harsh, and directed against the Slavophils who saw in early modern Moscow the height of Russian religious awareness. If anything, Fedotov’s sympathies lie with Novgorod: only in Novgorod does he see the survival and continuance of the old kenotic spirit that gifted the state of Kievan Rus’ with such overpowering creative energies. But he is far too good a historian to let ideology or politics take precedence over the facts of history; his take is refreshingly devoid of either cant or sentimentalism. Like the monastic chroniclers of whom he speaks so highly, Fedotov believes it is enough to allow the history to speak for itself, and the facts are precisely as he describes them here.

In terms of the religious and spiritual life of Kievan Rus’, Fedotov may be overeager to see its traces in places like Novgorod and Pskov, and he may not be particularly eager to see its traces in Moscow. But even considering his anti-Muscovite proclivities, he is very far from denying that Moscow essentially received the great and humane tradition whole from Kiev significantly before the coming of the Tatars, and he is equally far from denying that Moscow came by it honestly.

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